Sleep hygiene is defined by the behaviors and rituals you follow around sleep. Just like other kinds of hygiene, the attention you give to your sleep hygiene is reflected in other aspects of your life— both negatively and positively. If you ignore symptoms of sleep deficit, you run the risk of exacerbating other health issues such as stress or anxiety, which in turn contribute to even worse sleep hygiene.
Sleep deprivation signs manifest themselves in a number of ways: sleep disturbances in the middle of the night, taking too long to fall asleep, frequent yawning, waking up tired despite sleeping all night, needing caffeine, and dozing off during the day. All of these can be a strong indicator you need to change your sleep hygiene habits.
According to a recent study, up to two-thirds of chronic pain patients also suffer from poor sleep quality. While treating chronic pain goes beyond good sleep hygiene, establishing a better sleep routine can potentially lead to higher quality sleep, which may ease some chronic pain.
In this guide, we will discuss the major symptoms of poor sleep hygiene as well as some tips you can implement as soon as today to get a better night’s sleep.
1. Nurture Your Natural Sleep-Wake Cycle
The circadian rhythm is a complex internal clock that regulates the physical, mental, and behavioral changes of every living thing. This clock determines when we eat, sleep, and wake up, as well as our daily rhythms.
Syncing up with your natural circadian rhythm will lead to more restorative sleep while ignoring it can lead to sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, and mood swings. If you suffer from a disrupted circadian rhythm, there are things you can do to help.
Develop and stick to a regular sleep routine: Yes, even on the weekends! Establishing a routine will complement your body’s circadian rhythm, lessening the risk of developing more serious health issues like those we listed above.
Dim the lights: Turning down the lights in the evening hours will help launch your body’s internal clock into its nighttime routine. Begin dimming lights as soon as the sun goes down to signal to your body it’s time to unwind.
Light therapy: Known more commonly as Bright Light Therapy, this involves exposing the photoreceptors in your eyes indirectly to artificial light for several hours. This “imitation natural light” straightens out your skewed circadian rhythm. Bright light therapy can be done with three different tools:
- Light box: The most common device takes the form of a small, thin computer screen that can be placed on a flat surface by your bedside.
- Desk lamp: Similar to a light box but in the form of a lamp.
- Dawn simulator: This device mimics sunrise, waking you up naturally. It’s viewed as more pleasant than an obtrusive alarm clock.
As long as you don’t work irregular hours or night shifts, the natural rays of the sun or light therapy can bring your circadian rhythm back from its irregular course. If you are awake during nighttime hours because of work or other obligations, consider talking to a medical professional about light therapy.
2. Eliminate Blue Light in the Evenings
Blue light acts as a natural alarm clock, telling our bodies when it’s time to be awake. Almost every object on earth absorbs and releases blue light. As such, exposure to blue light is normal, but too much of it, especially close to bedtime, can disrupt your REM cycle and keep you from falling asleep at a healthy time.
Since smartphones, TVs, computers, and tablets emit blue light, using these devices in the evening, especially while you’re in bed, can interfere with the circadian rhythm and cause sleep deprivation.
You can prevent the negative effects of blue light by using the “night shift” feature found on most devices. “Night shift” turns off the blue light on your device and switches to warm light. If your electronic devices don’t have this feature, keep them outside the bedroom.
3. Track Your Sleeping Patterns
The value of keeping detailed records has been proven time and time again, whether you’re tracking meals, sleep, or daily life in a journal. Tracking sleep in particular will reveal your sleep patterns and areas for improvement, and there’s a couple ways you can do it!
Sleep trackers can’t track your sleep directly— instead, they measure long periods of inactivity as “representative” of sleep. If you wanted exact data on your sleep habits, you’d have to participate in a medical sleep study. Using a sleep tracker is the next best thing.
While sleep trackers are not 100% accurate, they can still provide incredibly useful data and uncover patterns in your sleep habits to help you improve your sleep hygiene. Here are a few things they measure:
- Sleep duration: Tracks when you fall asleep and wake up.
- Sleep quality: Records when sleep is interrupted and any periods of restless sleep.
- Sleep phases: Keeps track of the different phases of your sleep and wake cycle. An alarm may sound to wake you when your sleep is lightest. When the body transitions to lighter sleep, your brain receives a signal that it’s time to wake up.
- Environmental factors: Records the amount of light and temperature in the bedroom.
- Lifestyle factors: Acts as an electronic journal where you record your habits, like when you last ate and how much caffeine you’ve consumed.
In addition to analyzing your sleeping patterns, consider how you sleep— your preferred sleeping position can either help or harm your quality of rest.
Back and side sleeping are considered to be the healthiest sleep positions, but sleeping on your stomach is not recommended because it can lead to chronic back pain and a poor night’s rest. However, there are certain things to consider when determining whether side or back sleeping is healthiest for you. For example, while back sleeping is considered healthy because it aligns the spine, it’s not recommended to those who snore or have sleep apnea because it can exacerbate symptoms; and while side sleeping is good for opening the airways and aiding in digestion, it’s not suggested to those who have chronic shoulder pains.
Regardless of the sleeping position you choose, it’s a good idea to buy a mattress that’s compatible with the way you sleep. Firm mattresses are best for stomach sleepers, back sleepers can be comfortable on medium, medium-firm, or medium-soft mattresses, and the best mattresses for side sleepers are typically medium in firmness.
When it comes to your health, knowing all the details is invaluable. A sleep tracker app offers accurate methods to accumulate data and develop an understanding of how to change your lifestyle and improve your health.
Consider Using a Sleep Journal
Keeping a hard copy sleep journal and listing all your sleep and wake times during the night is another simple recording method. Sometimes a hard copy can endure the test of time longer than an app, so if you want to ensure your data stays safe, a handwritten journal is the way to go. Recording by hand can also improve your memory and help you achieve better self-awareness.
4. Develop Good Bedtime Habits
Establishing a bedtime ritual dictates a schedule for our internal clocks that encourages the natural production of melatonin and induces sleep. Like we mentioned earlier, keeping your sleep-wake cycle consistent is one of the most critical things you can do for better sleep hygiene.
Put In Those Hours
1 in 3 American adults experience some form of sleep deprivation, and it’s showing in the workforce. In the American economy alone, sleeping disorders affect the productivity of workers and have cost our country $63 billion.
On average, an adult should get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. To ensure you’re not sleep-deprived, here are a few tips to get you to bed on time:
- Prepare for bed 1-2 hours before actual bedtime: The time may vary depending on personal preference and how much sleep you need, but you should begin to wind down at least 1-2 hours before bed and no later.
- Establish a set bedtime: Your parents probably established a routine for you when you were younger, but now the responsibility is yours. A set sleep and wake time actually helps your body to establish a rhythm and enables you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep during the night. This results in a good night’s sleep with more energy and better focus the next day.
- Create a bedtime ritual: Forming a bedtime routine will help the body’s internal clock settle in for the night. Sitting with a cup of chamomile tea or an hour of quiet reading time will help you become drowsy quicker.
Shower or Bathe Before Bed
Your body’s temperature drops a few degrees to induce sleep— taking a warm bath or shower improves this nighttime cooling process. If the water temperature is too high, the body will have a harder time cooling down, so avoid using hot water.
If you prefer soaking in the tub, adding bath salts or essential oils like lavender would be the perfect way to relax. Lavender is a common remedy for anxiety and restlessness because it contains oils that act as a natural sedative.
Read a Book
Reading is a great way to wind down— just make sure you do it in a different room than your bedroom and read an actual book (an e-book emits blue light and disrupts your sleep cycle). Your brain needs to associate the bedroom with sleep; this means restricting bedroom activities to sleep only.
Stretching and Breathing
Many people set aside bedtime for mindfulness by engaging in some light stretching or breathing. You can also play relaxing nature sounds or move into a relaxing pose that will allow you to focus.
5. Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep
One of the best ways to improve your sleep is to adjust your sleep environment. You can’t exactly rest if you’re not comfortable, right? You can easily make some minor alterations to your room that can change your sleep for the better.
Invest in a comfortable mattress. Finding the best mattress for your sleep needs is an easy way to ensure you get comfortable sleep night after night and wake up each day pain-free and rested. When looking for a new bed, consider your preferred sleep style and different types of mattresses.
Make Your Bed. A clean bedroom makes for a restful sleep environment. Doing something as simple as making your bed in the morning will set the tone for your bedroom and your day. Naturally, you’ll keep your space cleaner while fostering restful sleep.
Making your bed can also prevent dust and other debris from settling on your sheets and keep them clean longer.
Keep Cool. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your bedroom temperature should be between 60 to 67 degrees when you head to bed. Keeping your bedroom at a lower temperature encourages your body’s nightly temperature drop, a natural process to prepare your body for rest.
Sometimes the temperature of the bedroom is outside your control. On hot nights, hiking up the A/C may not be enough. Opening a window or using a fan will cool you down. On colder nights, you can pile on the blankets or use an electric blanket.
If you live in a hot climate, shop for a mattress and bedding with cooling technologies, some of which are listed below:
- Heat conductive material infusions: The most common heat conductive material in cooling mattresses is gel, while other options like copper, graphite, coal, and titanium are just as effective but less popular. These infusions work by collecting nearby heat and passing it through the mattress away from the heat source. In other words, heat is literally pulled away from your body.
- Open-cell structure: To combat heat build-up, foam mattresses are often made using open cell construction, creating a soft foam that allows oxygen to pass through the material without much hindrance. Air passage is mostly due to the broken walls of the individual cell particles, resulting in a less-dense, responsive foam.
- Innerspring or coil bases: Innerspring and hybrid mattresses are known as great cooling mattresses because of their coil foundations. The space between the fabric materials and the frame allows air circulation, which makes for cool sleeping.
- Cooling bedding: Cool bedding fabrics include hemp, cotton, Tencel®, linen, and bamboo.
The Hemp Backpack recommends you avoid warm bedding fabrics such as flannel, polyester, wool, and microfiber.
Bedroom Lighting. It’s a no-brainer—light means it’s time to be awake, and darkness means it’s time to sleep.
Sometimes our geographical locations or our schedules don’t allow us to sleep during nighttime hours and we have to adjust accordingly. In these cases, blackout curtains will become your best friend. Blackout curtains keep all light out, initiating your body’s sleep processes.
Turn off unnatural light sources as soon as the sun goes down to help your body sync up with its natural rhythm, including those that emit blue light. By the time you’re ready for bed, your brain will be producing melatonin and preparing you for sleep.
6. Ditch the Alarm Clock
Your body has its own natural sleep rhythm and it should wake when it needs to without the help of an alarm clock. While effective, alarm clocks may not be the healthiest way to wake up. Here’s why:
- They create sleep anxiety, especially if you stare at the clock all night.
- A loud alarm jolting us awake produces cortisol, a stress hormone, and a spike of adrenaline— not the best way to start the morning. The alarm can also trigger our flight or fight response. Too little sleep can make an alarm that much more stressful.
- Brightly lit alarms can reduce production of melatonin, throwing your body’s cycle off.
Instead, follow these tips to encourage the natural sleep/wake cycle and avoid the unpleasant jolt of an alarm clock.
Go to Bed Early. An adult typically needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night— this doesn’t include the time you spend sitting or lying in bed, but actual sleep time. Going to bed early and allowing your body sufficient time for rest results in a day with more energy and focus.
Sunlight Alarms. If you’re worried about waking up on time for work, make the switch to a different type of alarm. There are several apps and devices that offer a healthier way to rouse the body from sleep. A classic example is a dawn simulator alarm that imitates sunlight, gradually intensifying as you wake.
Pay Attention to Your Body. If you feel groggy every time you wake in the morning, you may need to readjust your sleep schedule. Our bodies change as we age, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, it could be time to alter your sleep habits. Other factors like stress and health can contribute to changes in sleep patterns.
Still Need that Alarm?
If you still find yourself needing the assurance of alarm clock, keep the clock face away from your view to avoid sleep anxiety. Use apps or alarms with soothing wake up sounds to prevent jolting out of deep sleep. Above all else, avoid that snooze button. It’ll only leave you feeling groggy during the day instead of refreshed.
7. Monitor Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine can provide energy and wake us up when we feel tired. Science Direct, a scientific peer-reviewed journal, states that 85 percent of Americans drink at least 1 caffeinated drink per day. Those between the ages of 50 and 65 consume the most, and 96 percent of caffeinated beverages are consumed in the form of coffee, soft drinks, and tea.
Despite its usefulness during the day, drinking caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime can push your sleep cycle to a later time and lead to other sleep disorders.
We suggest caffeine consumption be limited to 6 hours before bedtime. Even better— try to eliminate or greatly reduce your caffeine consumption after lunchtime.
Switching out concentrated caffeinated drinks for herbal drinks can improve your sleep patterns. If you have decided to avoid caffeine after a certain time, watch out for hidden sources of caffeine like chocolate, medications, some types of curry, and so on.
8. Exercise to Improve Sleep
Exercising tires muscles out and prepares them for rest. Moderate aerobic exercise increases your slow-wave sleep— the most restorative part of the sleep cycle. Exercise can also stabilize your mood and decompress your mind, so you’re less likely to lay awake all night.
Exercise also raises our core temperature and our heart rate, making it a little bit harder for the body to cool down at night in preparation for sleep. Because of this, it’s best to exercise 3-4 hours before bedtime.
If you prefer exercising in the morning, be sure to go to bed at the right time to allow your body a good amount of sleep. Research shows that those who sacrifice sleep in order to put in a good workout routine forfeit muscle growth and suffer muscle loss.
Engaging in stretching before and after exercise is vital— it warms you up before the exercise and cools you down afterwards. Stretching before bed can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the system responsible for the body’s digestive functions and its ability to rest.
Address Soreness and Pain Points
Chronic pain impacts more than just athletes or those who regularly exercise, lower back pain alone affects 80 million Americans each year, and recurring aches and pains can make it hard to get a comfortable night’s rest. Talking with your doctor about solutions or investing in a mattress for back pain relief is a good way to nip discomfort in the bud and eliminate future aches.
9. Limit Naps
Naps are rejuvenating and give you a boost of energy as long as you do them correctly. If you love napping, just keep these rules in mind to avoid throwing off your nightly sleep cycle:
- The shorter the better. Sleeping for too long can hinder your nighttime sleep schedule. Long naps will reduce the time you sleep at night. You’ll eventually find yourself sleeping two different times in a 24-hour cycle.
- Avoid deep sleep. Keep naps between 20-30 minutes to prevent yourself from entering deeper sleep cycles. This ensures that you wake up refreshed instead of groggy.
- Schedule accordingly. Naps should be at least 5 hours before scheduled bedtime, helping you avoid the tragedy of being too wired for bed.
10. Introduce Sleep-Inducing Foods
Certain foods can improve or diminish your sleep. In the evenings, avoid foods loaded with fat and sugar and large meals. Eating this way can lead to slow digestion and cause spikes in blood sugar, both of which can disrupt sleep. Additionally, avoid spicy dishes since some peppers increase body temperature and make it harder for the body to cool down at night.
Look for foods that contain tryptophan, carbohydrates, calcium, melatonin, vitamin B6, and/or magnesium. These substances help induce sleep and prevent any disruptive symptoms from keeping you awake.
Some of the best sleep-inducing foods include:
Ideally, you should eat dinner before 7 pm, or at least 3 hours before your planned bedtime. When it’s time for bed, the body can fully prepare for sleep without the “distraction” of breaking down food.
If we eat late at night, further delaying sleep, the body’s focus is divided between sleep and digestion. We end up having a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep because the body is still trying to break down our last meal.
Even though it’s not ideal to go to bed on a full stomach, it’s also not a good idea to go to bed hungry. Light snacking is a happy medium. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, snacking can be a good thing— it’s how you do it that makes a difference. Like with evening meals, avoid anything heavy, fatty, and loaded with sugar. Small portions of simple foods that help induce sleep are the right way to go.
For example, cheese and crackers are a great evening snack. Cheese contains tryptophan and calcium. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin, a chemical that induces heavier sleep by creating melatonin while calcium is present during the REM sleep cycle.
Crackers contain carbohydrates and magnesium; carbohydrates help produce tryptophan which in turn produces serotonin. Magnesium helps regulate GABA levels, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.
11. Try Natural Remedies
Although we don’t encourage the use of sleep aids, we also understand they can help some people sleep well.
The key to most natural sleep aids is their calming effect— most will relax you, but not put you to sleep completely. Some scientific studies have found that natural sleep aids like chamomile, valerian root, and ginger teas help people fall asleep quicker.
Why You Should Avoid Melatonin Supplements
Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Darkness causes the body to produce melatonin, which acts as a signal for the body to prepare for sleep. Those who struggle with sleep sometimes supplement with melatonin to kick start this process.
Our circadian rhythms are very delicate. Directly interfering with them can disturb the natural cycle and potentially lead to depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, or seizures.
The most common side effect of using melatonin is that your body becomes immune to it, rendering it ineffective. Over time, you’ll be taking twice your original dosage to sleep. Meanwhile, your naturally-produced melatonin will also lose its effect, putting you on the fast track to sleep deprivation.
12. Leave Stress at the Door
Stress negatively impacts sleep as anxious thoughts circle our heads. More stress means an increase in cortisol production, and increased cortisol disrupts the regulation of other chemicals in the body like melatonin.
Less melatonin results in less sleep. In turn, less sleep produces more cortisol—this vicious cycle can turn into an endless loop with disastrous effects. To break this cycle, learn to manage stress, or at least reduce it at bedtime.
The following methods can help. Keep in mind that if they don’t work the first night, do not be discouraged— look at the sleep you do get as a positive.
Write It Down. At the end of the day, you may have a lot on your mind. Meetings, activities, and errands can involuntarily stress you out and prevent you from sleeping. Before bed, take the time to write down a list of what you need to do for the following day— this way, it’s out of your mind, and you’re free to relax.
Maybe instead of a busy schedule, you have insecurities that plague your mind and keep you from sleep. Again, write down your thoughts and feelings. These actions can effectively reduce stress and calm your mind. Know that your thoughts will be clearer after a good night’s rest.
Focus on Your Breath. In today’s stressful world, something as simple as taking a deep breath can do wonders for releasing built-up tension and clearing anxious thoughts.
All other thoughts fade in the background when you focus on something as simple as your breath.
Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is a great way to reduce stress and induce sleep. A variety of essential oils act as natural stress-relievers. Essential oils are most effective when dispersed in the air or rubbed on the skin with a carrier oil like coconut oil.
The following are some essential oils ideal for sleep:
- Lavender: Natural relaxant that can reduce anxiety, depression, and restlessness. Contains anti-inflammatory properties and relieves headaches.
- Clary Sage: Natural antidepressant that soothes nerves and reduces anxiety.
- Jasmine: Acts as an antidepressant and a sedative. Improves sleep quality and can help reduce insomnia.
Don’t Watch the Clock. While doing something repetitive at night can help induce sleep, watching the hand move around on a clock face is not. Watching the clock leads to sleep anxiety, perpetuating a long night of sleeplessness.
If it’s one of those nights where sleep eludes you, get up and move around. But use caution— turning on the TV, cleaning the house, or doing anything stimulating will only discourage sleep. Try a repetitive, calming activity like reading a book instead.
There is no one perfect sleep routine for everyone, but discovering what works best for you can shield you from restless nights and other health problems. Simply put— establishing good sleep habits will lead to consistent sleep!
Unfortunately, there are some who will continue to have trouble sleeping even after implementing all the tips included in this article. This can be an indication that the person has a sleeping disorder or another condition that is affecting their sleep. If this describes you, we highly suggest seeking the help of a physician.